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Memorial scholarship for young Pasefika director

Opening night of NZ Opera's Ihitai 'Avei'a - Star Navigator
Photo credit: NZ Opera/Grant Triplow

Young Pasefika director Antonia Kamu is the recent recipient of a scholarship honouring Christchurch theatrical designer and teacher Peter Lees-Jeffries.

The Peter Lees-Jeffries Memorial Award is granted by the Dame Malvina Major Foundation to support the professional development of young New Zealand designers and directors.

Antonia was assistant director, working alongside experienced opera director John G Davies, in the recent world premiere performances of New Zealand Opera’s Ihitai ‘Avei’A – Star Navigator by Tim Finn and Célestine Hitiura Vaite, which tells the story of the incredible star navigator Tupaia and his time on board James Cook’s Endeavour.

Antonia says it is an honour and a privilege to have been considered for this scholarship and her heart is full receiving it on this particular project.

“Telling this story and with so much heart and soul put into the making has allowed for this opera to be a step together in bridging the gap for our two cultures. What was taken from our Pasefika people many years before is now being restored in its truth and entirety. This piece aligns so very much with my core values and endeavoured to take on the rough seas and begin this discussion.

“I am thankful to Tim Finn for taking courage to tell this story of Tupaia and he has done it so beautifully, to New Zealand Opera for giving this story the platform and support, to all the “sailors” aboard this ship, and most thankful to my captain – John Davies who pulled me aboard.  He allowed for connections to the wider Pasefika community and even allowed for me to take the wheel in moments of direction. He even allowed for me to maintain my Samoan values of ‘family first’ which is significant because I have a 4-month-old child. She came to rehearsals and was embraced by all. Our aiga grew! John is a true example of what it means to walk side-by-side. In fact, the whole creative team and crew have all been great examples of what this means. I hope this to be the new norm for our future New Zealand.

“And to the silent crew: my Christian aiga – mum, sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces, and ALL my in-laws, who were always my number one supporters. My husband for supporting me throughout the process and never allowing me to give up. My children for their time. They have always known and seen my potential and I will forever be grateful to them. Accepting this scholarship is also accepting on behalf of my family as we all have worked together for me to come through to rehearsals and showcasing. The African proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is true to its form. Therefore my success is not just my own but accredited to my family and to the God we serve. In the same sense that Tupaia credited his findings to his gods so too I acknowledge that the God of my family has laid out the path before me and orchestrated all this to come to fruition.

“At this point in time I can honestly say that this is my most favourite experience to date. Receiving this scholarship is absolutely significant. I am privileged that my ability has been recognised doing work which aligns with all I value and the greater vision both John and I hope for – to see our cultures respectfully come together through the medium of opera (and performing arts). This is special and a gift I will always cherish as it marks for me the beginning of more greatness yet to come.

“Thank you, Dame Malvina and to the Foundation for considering me for this scholarship. I am truly honoured to have received this.”



Rhapsody Newsletter – Summer 2020/21


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